Alpaca Tribe Podcast – Episode 1


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If I told you that there is an alpaca tribe, would you want to be part of it? The good news is that if you are here, you probably already are.

Over the years I have noticed that some people, in particular, ‘get’ Alpacas; they connect more than other people. Sure, everyone likes Alpacas and their cute cria but for some people, it goes deeper. I call it the alpaca gene and if you have it you are already part of the alpaca tribe but just didn’t know it.

In recognition of this, we are creating an online gathering place where alpaca people can feel connected and that they belong. It will be for all things alpaca, so not just for owners and breeders, or people who run alpaca businesses but for everyone who wants to be around others who are passionate about alpacas – those who are alpaca mad – you know who you are.

The aims of the alpaca tribe are

  1. to promote healthy and happy alpacas
  2. to encourage confident fulfilled owners
  3. to help people achieve sustainable alpaca businesses
  4. to help people use the fleece they harvest from the animals
  5. to provide a place for alpaca enthusiasts to feel at home

For people with only a few alpacas, it is easy to feel isolated and unsure about how to improve your care for your alpacas and get the kind of satisfaction you hoped for when you first started.

We will be sharing ideas, tips and suggestions for you through this podcast series and will be interviewing people from a wide range of alpaca related areas to help you.

We aim to be entertaining and share knowledge that will be useful and make you think: let us know if we can cover something you particularly need.

This episode will provide you with an introduction to me, Steve Heatherington, as your host and share a collection of my firsts with alpacas:

  • First meeting
  • first arrivals
  • First farm open days
  • First shearing
  • First cria births
  • First losses

If you have questions, suggestions or ideas for the podcast, do let us know by emailing steve@alpacatribe.com

You can also visit the website at https://alpacatribe.com and sign up for the newsletter to stay connected.

Thanks for listening and joining me on the journey, Steve

Transcript

Hi Steve here.

This is the first episode of the new alpaca tribe podcast.

ALPACA TRIBE
If I told you that there is an alpaca tribe, would you want to be part of it? The good news is that you probably already are

Over the years I have noticed that some people in particular get Alpacas; they connect more than other people. Sure, everyone likes Alpacas and their cute cria but for some people it goes deeper. I call it the alpaca gene and if you have it you are already part of the alpaca tribe but just didn’t know it.

In recognition of this we are creating an online gathering place where alpaca people can feel connected and that they belong. It will be for all things alpaca, so not just for owners and breeders, or people who run alpaca businesses but for everyone who wants to be around others who are passionate about Alpacas – those who are alpaca mad – you know who you are.

The aims of the alpaca tribe are

  1. to promote healthy and happy Alpacas
  2. to encourage confident fulfilled owners
  3. to help people achieve sustainable alpaca businesses
  4. to help people use the fleece they harvest from the animals
  5. to provide a place for alpaca enthusiasts to feel at home

For people with only a few alpacas, it is easy to feel isolated and unsure how to improve your care for your alpacas and get the kind of satisfaction you hoped for when you first started.

We will be sharing ideas, tips and suggestions for you through this podcast and will be interviewing people from a wide range of alpaca related areas.

We aim to be entertaining and share knowledge that will be useful and make you think: let us know if we can cover something you particularly need.

I thought it might be useful to introduce myself and something of what we have been doing here in Wales with Welsh Valley Alpacas and talk a bit about what the podcast is going to be about.

FIRSTS
In this episode
It will be a bit of a collection of firsts.

  • First meeting
  • first arrivals
  • First farm open days
  • First shearing
  • First cria births
  • First losses

ME
But before getting to those I wanted to talk about me.

Originally a northerner, we now live in south Wales. I Studied biological science or BIO, in Norwich at the University of East Anglia.

After graduating, I ended up as an environmental health officer working in London.

In 2006 we moved to Wales with my wife’s job and somehow ended up buying a valley. We have 40 acres with woodland and a lake. It was a Victorian reservoir and is something of a long thin ribbon of land, not all of which can be used for grazing. It’s a good job that Alpacas don’t mind sloping ground and hills. They also like trees and lakes.

I was a Towney by habitat and experience. I grew up in the urban sprawl of Newcastle upon Tyne; Studied in a beautiful Norfolk city; trained and worked in London; and developed my career in Reading, Berkshire.

When we moved to South Wales and acquired land, we had no idea that we would end up keeping Alpacas. It was not part of a grand scheme or plan.

When I was young, I had a romantic idea of becoming a vet. The main motivation of the uncomfortable teenager I was at the time, was that I didn’t like people but I did like animals. Little did I realise that vets spend a lot of time dealing with people and doing not so nice things to animals.

It was only later when we had the alpacas, that I discovered I had a Shepherd in me that had just never had an opportunity to be expressed before. I wonder how many others like me are out there?

FIRST MEETING
When did I meet my first alpaca? We occasionally saw some at a distance when walking the dog up in the woods near outside Reading. Only later, did I realise that one of the largest breeders in the UK is based just outside of Reading. So no, it wasn’t there but it could have been. I guess it needs to be the right time.

One day my wife asked me to humour her and look at a website about Alpacas. She had been dropping subtle hints for some time but I was being rather thick. We did not get to bed early that night as we devoured the detail and still photographs of the website. Our conclusion – we needed to go see some and therefore organised a visit to a breeder in Devon. We went to see Chas & Rachel of Classical Mile End alpacas. Just for a look you know.

You know what it is like when you’re considering something and subconsciously you are already decided – your language changes from maybe and possibly, into much more definite ‘we are doing this’ kind of language.

As we walked through fields of beautiful alpacas, there was one of the females who stood out. I am pleased to say she is still part of our herd here now. It was her eyes and presence that particularly caught our attention. Dear Hermione. Probably one of th key reasons we now have alpacas.
We currently have 40 in the herd and while I have 40 favourites some are more favourite than others. And she is one of them.

We went away and thought about it – always a good plan – and eventually ended up buying five pregnant females with a range of bloodlines and in a range of colours. We knew from the start, that we wanted to grow a herd rather than just keep a few. It was the beginning of a fascinating journey.

FIRST ARRIVALS
They arrived at the end of February 2008 and were a delight from day 1. Delivered in a horse box – alpacas will sit through the journey as soon as the vehicle starts moving. They were released into their new home and stood grouped together in the middle of the field all looking different directions – fairly typical. They then watched wistfully after the horsebox as it left – better what you know perhaps. Anyway it wasn’t long before they settled and got used to us and their new routines in their new surroundings.

FIRST FARM OPEN DAY
We had our first farm open day that Easter to show them off. I fed them in their corralled area while the crowd (mainly faithful curious friends) stood around the railings. One young lad obviously thought watching them eat was slightly pedestrian and asked if they did tricks? Not yet.

We learnt how to keep them fed and watered and waited with anticipation for the babies – known as cria – to be born.

We have carried on with farm open days and have them on bank holiday Monday’s each year starting with Easter.

FIRST SHEARING
May June is a good time of year to shear depending on the weather – you can still get night frosts then and without their fleece they can be a bit exposed. We decided we would shear our alpacas ourselves so went on a course and bought the kit. This was another of the learning curves we embraced in our alpaca journey – I am not sure we fully realised what we were taking on. As with many areas of life, things may be simple but not necessarily easy. Only doing it gives the experience to gain competence and there will always be more to learn and aspects to get better at. Our girls loved to roll and the fine grit and dirt meant the combs and cutters became blunt quicker then the text book told me. We got there in the end but it was a long struggle in our first year of shearing. We will return to this important practical topic in future episodes.

Let me talk to you now about first births

FIRST BIRTHS
Lalana was due first – at least on paper – a lovely light brown female with the most amazing eyes. Another stand out when we were looking in earnest and always on the short list. For a few weeks before she delivered, the signs and indications were there. Frequent trips to the poo pile; sitting down a lot; lifting her tail. She knew we were watching her and kept us waiting. Until finally – a text book delivery. No waiting up all night for lambing or calving but 11 o clock on a sunny day. Straight forward nothing to do but check the membranes were clear of mouth and nose and treat the umbilical cord to avoid infection. A great start.

From cush to stand to feed. So difficult to do what you need and no more. Try to keep you distance and don’t get too hands on – unless you have to. Cria births continue to amaze me. The natural instincts and progression. After a while you start to recognise normal and unusual as different and learn when to step forward to help and when to stand back and wait. Exciting times in our first summer.

Of course the next two mothers or dams hadn’t read the text book. And they gave birth at 3pm on a rainy afternoon. Due dates only a week apart, one started giving birth and set the other one off. Too late to get them inside we used the shelter of trees to give some protection from the rain. That and my mother in law’s umbrella. The first one to hit the ground was sniffed by both mothers which rather complicated things since they both claimed the same cria as theirs. Rescued from the rain and a night in separate pens at opposite ends of the stable resolved the problem and bonding was complete.

You start with the ideal and slide down the scale responding to problems and potential crises as you go, doing the best you can. Training courses help but usually you are on your own in the moment. One of the biggest lessons from the courses I have been on, is knowing when you are out of your depth and haven’t the experience to deal with what is in front of you so you can shout for help (such as the vet) sooner rather than later.

FIRST LOSSES
We have been breeding alpacas now for over 10 years. There have been many cria born and some have been less than straightforward. We have lost some along the way. The aim is to know enough and to not make the same mistake twice.

We had a plan for worming and it was linked to the calendar. Two weeks before we were planning to treat one of the females suddenly was found to be way out of condition and anaemic – don’t over fuss them but do make sure you have your hands on them regularly to check body score, especially when they are in winter fleece. The liver fluke season had come earlier because of two wet summers. We did what we could but it was not enough and we lost her, leaving a 2 month old orphaned cria to manage.

Losses are never easy and I don’t think they should be.

WHO IS THE PODCAST FOR?
In essence it is for anyone who is passionate about alpacas. Everyone I have met seems to like alpacas but some people LIKE alpacas. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that some people seem to have an alpaca gene – they really connect with alpacas; they just get alpacas. If that is you, then this podcast is or you.

You may already own some alpacas, or be in the process of acquiring some. You may be considering it and weighing up the implications and possibilities. You may dream that one day, perhaps maybe, if it was possible. Or, you may realise you are never going to have your own but you just love them. This podcast is for all of you.

Having had over 10 years experience breeding alpacas I have enough knowledge to get me into trouble – and sometimes get me out of trouble too. The more you know the more you know that there is to know. But getting started with keeping alpacas is not too difficult. To achieve all you want to, IS more of a challenge but still within reach. We want to help people move beyond the romantic wishful thinking of cuteness to the realsitic, satisfying and rewarding experience of sharing your life with some fascinating animals.

WHAT IS THE PODCAST FOR?

The overall aim is happy and healthy alpacas; confident and fulfilled owners; and sustainable alpaca businesses.

I recognise that people with only a few alpacas often have a greater challenge in gaining experience, or accessing information and support. We will have pointers and tips and introduce you to people who can help. Knowing the right questions to ask is more than half the battle. We will be interviewing a wide range of people who keep alpacas; work with alpaca fleece; provide services to other owners (such as shearing, fleece procesing or training); are using alpacas for business activity (walking with alpacas; weddings; associated with holiday lets). The possibilities are many and varied. If you want us to cover something in, or have a particular perspective to share, do let me know through the contact details provided in the show notes.

We will cover what you need to know to get started; what you need to know before you get started; how to get past your difficulties and frustrations to enjoying your alpacas; how you can make money from your alpacas; identifying the stepping stones to get to where you want to go.

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